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The Review: Lotusphere 2010 – Opening General Session

By Andrew Pollack on 01/19/2010 at 12:23 PM EST

I know there are tens of thousands of you out there slowing turning blue as you hold your breath waiting for my personal take on this year’s OGS. You may now begin breathing again, as I’m about to impart this vast wisdom. Just a note, if you fail to restart breathing, try passing out and flopping around on the floor until you draw someone’s attention and they can call 911. That usually helps.

Disclaimer: Once again, I’ve been invited to participate in the “Treat Bloggers Much Better Than They Deserve By Calling Them Press” program at Lotusphere. For the OGS, this means I was able to sit on a comfy couch up front and provided a network cable. It was very nice, and my backside sends it thanks to all involved in making that available. It will not, however, impact my opinions in any way.

Note: I’m not going to make this a multi-page rehash of the news. There are lots of press releases and blogs which do that. Here, I’m going to give you my impressions of the things which struck me as notable.

Bob Picciano opened the OGS and was his usual dynamic self. The man has my respect for his intelligent, engaging, and comfortable interaction with an audience of one to several thousand without the slightest hesitation.

By now you know that William Shatner was the guest speaker. As a geek, you can imagine that I of course was glad to see the choice, and I’ve actually enjoyed his work long after Star Trek because he’s someone willing to accept what both his fans love, and his critics don’t – and have fun with both equally. The ability to laugh with your critics as they criticize you is a great thing and Mr. Shatner willingly embraces that. He did, however, have absolutely no idea what it is we actually do. As a result he gave us an enjoyable but fairly empty fifteen minutes of free association on the subject of Collaboration. I’d have enjoyed it every bit as much if he’d come out on stage, said almost nothing, shot an extra in a red shirt with a laser pointer, then kissed another extra in green facepaint, and finished by walking off stage.

Alistair Rennie was introduced, and did a bang-up job. He’s articulate, soothing, intelligent, and seems firmly in control of his presentation and topic. I’ve heard many good things about Rennie – often from his employees – and not a single negative comment so I’m very encouraged.

Demo’s from the usual characters were well handled fairly quick this time. As always, there was lots of hand waving and fast clicking that makes very complex tasks look quite simple but would be quite difficult in the real world. Keven C. is much better when he’s just speaking and not trying to act out an over-rehearsed set of jokes from a teleprompter. It is HARD to smoothly deliver lines from a teleprompter to a big audience you can barely see and over-rehearsal doesn’t help.

As far as the demos, in particular, the fast and easy Sametime 8.5 video and voice conference struck me as more than a bit disingenuous. The BP’s I know who do a lot of work with this server don’t have as nice a report to give. My summation is this – Sametime 8.5 remains extremely painful to install and integrate with other tools on the back end, and is staggeringly difficult to make effectively useful for video conferences or audio conferences between parties across firewalls. This is very sad, given that my PS3 video game console with a 30 dollar USB webcam can handle a 6 way video conference through firewalls that grandparents can use to talk to their extended families.

This year, customers had a much bigger part of the OGS – and I think this has a lot to do with Bob P’s much more personal approach to how things are done at Lotus. I suspect Alistair Rennie will likely continue that trend. Instead of just announcing big wins at big customers, the reasons behind the wins were discussed by executives from the customers themselves. Panasonic and Zurich were particularly effective. I didn’t find GM’s to be as credible, as interesting, or as engaging –but that could be just me.

Moving on, Rim’s expected announcements of ever better integration continued – this time with native clients for Connections and Quickr. What makes this interesting, is that these native clients are built by RIM and show a real commitment to the platform – not just add-ons by partners or even IBM.

Traveler has been a big win this year. It installs in minutes, makes users very happy, and doesn’t require a huge and expensive WAS or Portal server. It is actually driving 8.5 adoption. The announcement of support for Android was very welcome. Android, however, is a different environment from the iPhone. It’s open and flexible, but also chaotic and implementations vary widely across products and carriers. For this reason, I think the choice to create their own PIM client for Android which itself talks to Traveler rather than rely on the various pre-shipped apps for each device is a very smart one. It’s not consistent with the iPhone implementation (which uses the native iPhone apps) but then, the whole ecosystem is totally different.

Speaking of Traveler, encryption support is now available – and free – as an add-on for traveler for iPhone. It involves a quick patch to the server side, and a download from the iPhone App store. Again, I’m impressed that instead of trying to re-invent the wheel, IBM is using the preferred install methods for the device.

Next, but not least or last, was the announcement that Lotus Live is about to add “Lotus Notes Live” as part of its service offering. On the surface, this looks really good – but I’ll want to explore the boundaries a bit before I’m fully on board with it.

Finally, “Project Vulcan”. This was a sort of mock-up demo of a future possibility of what the Lotus products might look like at some point in the distant future. I suppose it is great that there is (FINALLY) real effort being made to consider that all the products should look, feel, and inter-operate in a similar way. More, the goal of fine-grained modularity in the tools for integration by IT departments and ISV’s in different ways is a very laudable goal. On the other hand, I wasn’t much impressed with the specifics that I saw from a UI direction. I’m planning a detailed blog on that later this week, but suffice to say that in a world where we’re moving to ever bigger and nicer screens, with more and more lightweight mini-apps to best handle specific tasks, managed by frameworks like Flex, Gears, and .net – this direction once again seems to try to own the whole desktop and integrate everything at once in a giant single compromise of an interface entirely controlled by IBM. That aspect of Vulcan cannot succeed and will be an expensive mistake if pursued.

Overall though, the OGS was smooth and effective; the announcements were substantial and positive, and the increased focus on customers was a welcome change.

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